“It is of great consequence to have previously determined the concept that one wants to elucidate through observation before questioning experience about it.”
― Immanuel Kant, Anthropology, History and Education
On things that happened far away from their living places and of which they lacked direct experiences, people would naturally abstract some concepts to facilitate their thoughts, elucidations and discussions. The Chinese youth are of course no exception on the American Presidential Election. As for the concepts they often label the election, I think nothing can be better than the word “game” in English.
In English, if you treat something not that seriously, you will describe it as a game with an indication of childishness, while “game” can also refer to the “Game Theory”, which is an important branch of modern mathematics, and has been applied into many other fields including politics.
Accordingly, the Chinese youth, who tend to label the presidential election a “game”, can be divided into two groups. One sees it as a funny and dramatic game like American TV Series, while the other views it as a serious game involving Republicans, Democrats, nearly all the Interest Groups, and of course the Chinese governments and citizens.
“It is funnier than American TV Series!”
For the group with a playful attitude to the American Presidential Election, the election is, to a great extent, constructed by the American Soap Operas, Sitcoms and Comedy-dramas.
The introduction of American TV Series into China dates back to the 1980s. At that time, as a politically correct one, an American science fiction series, The Man from Atlantis produced by National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1977, was filmed by China Central Television (CCTV) in May of 1980.
Although the DVD and VCD afterwards increased the popularity of American TV Series among Chinese youth, the real nationwide spread of the series has actually occurred with the popularization of the Internet this century.
In the spreading process, the milestone was Lost in 2004, an American TV Series produced by American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), with whose popularity dozens of Subtitle Groups appeared as the language bridge between the Chinese audience and American series. They did a great deal of translation work for the ordinary Chinese audience without English language skills and indeed promoted the spread of American TV Series in China. What needs to be pointed out here is that youth are the absolute mainstream in both of the audience and Subtitle Groups.
Meanwhile, some subtitle groups also translated the videos of other American TV programs, most of which were relevant to politics, especially the American Presidential Election.
According to a China Press report, Mr. Yin, a postgraduate in South China and also a person in charge of Guojiang Subtitle Group, is now staying up to add the Chinese subtitles into the videos of the American Presidential Election.
“Watching American Presidential Election is just like watching a football game,” Yin said. “You can see a lot of tactics and strategies, but what’s the most important is always the marks.”
Out of personal interest in international politics, Mr. Yin and his partners do this translation work on the videos of the election automatically. However, at the beginning, just like other groups, they translated American TV Series. Accidentally, they afterwards found their countrymen were highly interested in the election of this strongest nation in the world. The number that follows can convincingly imply the degree of interest. “There were several million clicks within a single day after the Republicans’ policy debate on the 6th of May in 2015,” said Miss Zhou, another founding member of the group.
The popularity can be not only counted as the number of clicks, but also directly found in Weibo, a Chinese social media like Twitter.
“It’s like Reality Show! It’s funnier than American TV Series!” a young cyber-citizen commented.
Also, some audiences focusing on the contents are disappointed by the policy debate. “The candidates didn’t pay enough attention to policies,” Miss Zhang, a former commercial consultant, pointed out. “They did a lot of exaggeration.”
The impression above is perhaps left, during these months, by the presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is an American businessman, politician, and television personality. With his special frankness, he gives a number of opinions that are not politically correct, which attracts many people in China to enjoy his funny political performances, as in his motherland.
In China, there is an Internet sub-culture among the youth that the popular celebrities are often given a funny nickname. For example, Leonardo DiCaprio, the latest Oscar winner, is named after Little Li by Chinese fans. The word “little” indicates people’s favor of young and handsome Jack, Titanic’s hero played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Li is a Chinese family name, the pronunciation of which sounds like the first syllable of Leonardo.
As for Donald Trump, the youth call him Chuan Pu or Chuang Po, both of which are based on the homophonic pronunciation. The Chinese meaning of the former one is Mandarin Chinese with an accent of Sichuan, a southwestern province in China, which indicates a sense of jest, while the latter one in Chinese is broken bed, which, in fact, is nothing but an implication of tease.
It is seemingly well-known that foreign policy is Donald Trump’s vulnerability, let alone the bilateral relations between China and USA. In a debate in November 2015, Donald Trump criticized China’s threatening role in TPP, which as a factual mistake was pointed out without mercy not only by his opponent, the senator from Kentucky, but also by Chinese cyber-citizens.
‘Is he deliberately amusing people? How couldn’t he know that China is even not a member of TPP?’a Chinese cyber-citizen questioned.
It has been a routine that presidential candidates criticized China to show their tough China policies and patriotism. Donald Trump and his strong opponents are no exception.
What is no exception is much more than this single point. Chinese youth believe the hilarious presidential election is just an amusing game. On one hand, the real actors are the several powerful political families and wealthy interest groups that are behind the curtains. On the other hand, the differences between Democrats and Republicans seem to be made intentionally because of the neutralization of stances of both parties in the USA. As a result, many Chinese youth hold the idea that the changing of American presidents cannot substantially impact the bilateral relations in essence, and the presidential election is more than a political carnival.
“Don’t describe Trump as a madman so early!”
For the group seeing the election from the perspective of “Game Theory”, the public accounts in WeChat are their popular channels to give opinions and also our best ones to hear from them.
The booming development of China’s mobile Internet is widely known to the world. According to the report of Trend Force, a market-research firm, in the past 2015, the total sales volume of smart phones was about 1.292 billion, and seven of top ten producers were from China with the sales volume of 539 million, over half of which were absorbed by the domestic market, though Chinese producers were endeavoring to penetrate foreign markets.
By February of 2016, the statistics from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) show that there have been over 1 billion mobile phone users in China, 65% (cited from China Internet Network Information Centre, CINIC) of whom are WeChat users, which is a highly integrated smart phone APP with functions of mobile text, voice messaging communication, e-commerce and posting short-length comments or long-length articles, etc.
When it comes to WeChat, I want to particularly emphasize one single function here. In WeChat, individuals and institutions can freely apply to WeChat for public accounts, which, at the first time, offer channels for the people with similar interests, hobbies or any other characteristics to conveniently release, receive and exchange information. And, of course, the absolute mainstream is also the youth.
As a result, many organizations and institutions with professional or amateur, official or civil, foreign or domestic backgrounds respectively open their own public accounts in WeChat including the State Council of China, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, British Embassy to China, and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Among those, there are several ones, such as iAmEletion, CNPolitics, and ChinaUSDialogue, specially focusing on the American Presidential Election. If we regard the Subtitle Groups as telescopes to help ordinary Chinese see the election, these accounts offering deep analysis can be thought of as microscopes to observe the election.
Just like other Media, there is a market mechanism inside WeChat public accounts. What I mean is that all the public accounts, for more users’ attention and higher click rates, are making efforts to select interesting topics, offer valuable contents and give popular titles.
On these public accounts, there are a large number of aricles targeted on Trump because of his controversial views and behaviors. Won on Super Tuesday! What’s Trump’s Weapons of Mass Destruction? is the title of a long professional article from iAmEletion that is established by a media company and run by several Chinese postgraduates in the USA with majors relevant to the election. This article analyzes the phenomena of populism in the presidential election with the spectrum of 12 elections from 1952-1996. The author proposes that populism as a tactic has been widely utilized by nearly all candidates but most successfully by Trump in this time’s serious game. Another article from iAmEletion, Don’t Describe Trump as a Madman So Early holds that Trump through a series of politically incorrect opinions has successfully constructed his public image of frankness and sincerity that are far different from other experienced politicians.
Why Trump, the Non-mainstream Candidate, Will Become the President Soon? ChinaUSDialogue hosted by Asian Cultural Council gave their latest article the title above, and the author is a Chinese young lecturer in Boston University. With the classical theory, Prisoner’s Dilemma, he thinks there are three factions inside the Republican Party, the mildly traditional one supported by elites with good education, the evangelical one by gospel believers, and the Trump one by the lowly educated and religious members. However, after the struggle with each other, the final round became the game between Trump and Cruze, the leader of the evangelical faction.
Another popular candidate only second to Trump is his strong Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton, which, however, doesn’t mean Chinese youth place more expectations on Trump than on Hillary. Just the opposite. The young Chinese audience seems to have tacit consensus that it’s highly possible that Hillary, as an experienced and ambitious politician, a former first lady marrying a prestigious President husband, and a member of political network, will smile to the end. Weekly Report: Does Hillary’s Firewall Work is an article from iAmEletion in which the Chinese young observer in New York chose to analyze Hillary’s election campaign from the perspective of ethnic groups during the last week of February. He frankly pointed out that African Americans and Latinos are the keys for Hillary to winning the next round in March.
Besides these two most welcomed candidates, there are also numerous articles with different theoretical frameworks or angles of views including political systems, geopolitics, electoral cultures, etc.
Above all, this group of Chinese youth, which regards the election as a live drama of “Game Theory” and also holds a great deal of curiosity, believes that the presidential election can be the best case to study American society, culture, politics, and citizens themselves. Although most of them believe in Hillary’s success from the beginning, the evolution of conditions and circumstances makes them gradually realize Trump’s serious role in the spectrum.
As the milestone of the whole election process, the Super Tuesday just finished with an appearance of two names for the final competition, which has been a tipping point in American public opinions, and also on the opposite bank of the Pacific. Maybe out of the problems of trust, knowledge or feelings, Chinese youth, quite unlike their American counterparts, have polarized views of game with jests or game with seriousness. However, what there is in common on both banks, I guess, is that both of us are looking forward to the ideal outcomes of the fierce competition, which, in fact, will substantially influence every one of us in many ways, since we, after all, belong to two of the greatest nations in this era of globalization.
HAO Nan, School of International Relations, Sichuan International Studies University, Chongqing, China (firstname.lastname@example.org).